By Lauren Yarger
Who dunit? No one knows, since Charles Dickens died before finishing his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, so each night, the audience at Roundabout Theatre Company's Broadway musical adaptation gets to decide.
Cast members, who already have been cavorting with audience members during the tongue-in-cheek, almost vaudevillian performance, come into the house with signs numbered to correspond with suspects vying for votes up on stage. The tallies are taken and the second act continues on with an ending geared toward fingering the murderer as selected by the audience.
It's all a lot of fun, much like this silly play within a play set in London's Music Hall Royale in 1895 and directed by Scott Ellis. Beautiful sets, accented with Victorian detail (Anna Louizos, set design -- love that train tunnel!) provide the backdrop for the zany characters dressed in period garb (William Ivey Long, who nicely balances color in his design) singing music and lyrics by Rupert Holmes (who also pens the book). Choreography is by Warren Carlyle.
Music Hall actors play characters in the tale with the help of the theater Chairman (Jim Norton), a sort of narrator, to keep everything straight with actors playing characters playing multiples characters.... It's not as complicated as it might sound, though.
The gist is that Edwin Drood (Stephanie J. Block, playing a woman playing Drood....) has mysteriously disappeared and is presumed dead. Many had opportunity and motive. Was it John Jasper (Will Chase) who is in love with his voice student, Rosa Bud (Betsy Wolfe) whose father arranged her engagement to Drood, who also is Jasper's nephew? Jasper, after all, was the last person to see Drood alive. Or perhaps it was mysterious Neville Landless (Andy Karl) arrived from Ceylon, who also is interested in Rosa, or could it be his equally mysterious twin sister, Helena (Jessie Meueller), who despised Drood?
Also suspect are the Landless's mentor, the Rev. Mr. Crisparkle (Gregg Edelman, who is an absolute hoot), Durdles (Robert Creighton), a stone carver and cemetery caretaker who has a drinking problem, Princess Puffer (Chita Rivera), who runs an opium den frequented by Jasper, clerk Bazzard (Peter Benson), who is starved for attention, or the stranger Dick Datchery who suddenly starts asking questions about what happened to Drood.
The audience gets to decide the muderer's identity as well as a happy ending (Rupert wrote songs for each and every possibility, giving the show hundreds of possible concuding combinations.)
The night I attended, it was determined that The Rev. Crisparkle and Princess Puffer would end up together and Edelman, who seemed genuinely surprised, and Rivera seemed to have as much fun playing that out as we had watching.
There probably are a couple of the some 18 music numbers that could be eliminated to trim the two-hour-and-40-minute run time, but it is an enjoyable night at the intimate Studio 54, which seems a perfect fit for the revival of this romp, which won a bunch of Tonys in 1986, including Best Musical.
Drood has been extended through March 20 at Studio 54, 254 West 54th St., NYC. Tickets: 212-719-1300; www.roundabouttheatre.org.
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